December 7th, 1941, is - at least according to the president at the time - a date that will live in infamy thanks to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Fast forward 72 years and Xavier fans are more concerned with November 28-30, 2013, a set of dates that will, if not living on infamy, at least not go down as some of the best in the program's history. A 5-0 team with confidence, momentum, and a growing amount of respect in both polls left for the Bahamas; a 5-3 team that saw all of those things dramatically tarnished in the span of three short days returned. Fortunately, NCAA basketball actually has a postseason tournament, so a team with one bad weekend has a chance to pick up the pieces and make something of the season.
That process begins against the Falcons of Bowling Green State University. Bowling Green has taken on a couple of good teams in Saint Lou and Wisconsin and been beaten comprehensively by both. Oral Roberts and South Florida have also gotten the best of the Falcons, but Presbyterian, Western Kentucky, and someone called Earlham have all fallen victim to the BGSU attack. No team they have defeated has been ranked better than 200th by Ken Pomeroy.
Offense has really been the main problem for Louis Orr's squad. They don't do anything well on that end (except avoid turnovers, at which they're average) and do a lot of things fairly poorly. Their three-point shooting is an especially weak point, as they're connecting on just 25.4% of their shots from behind the arc. Their 46.3% mark from inside the arc is 241st in the country, and their 60.7% from the line - while the envy of Xavier fans - rounds out the picture of a poor shooting team. They're also well below average in offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line.
On defense, BG is okay, which is a step up. They force turnovers on 19% of opponents' possessions, which is a tick above average. They also hang just around the middle of the pack in defending the glass and keeping opponents off the line. Their struggles so far have come from beyond the arc, where opponents have made 39% of their three-point attempts. Beyond that, BG is above average in two-point percentage defense and 115th in the country in block percentage. They also end 11.5% of opponent possessions with steals, which is 30th in the country.
The Falcons are not a deep team, getting only 23.3% of their minutes off the bench. Despite that, they play an above-average tempo at the offensive end. Their defensive possessions are longer than almost anyone's in the nation, but that number is likely skewed by having played Wisconsin, Saint Louis, and Oral Roberts.
The player: 6'1", 181-pound guard Jehvon Clarke
The numbers: 11.6/2.6/4.7 on .352/.174/.722 shooting
More numbers: 28.3% usage rate, 28.9% assist rate, 4.2% steal%
The words: Clarke is the straw that stirs the drink for BG. In addition to having more than twice as many assists as any of his teammates, he averages 2.3 steals per game and generally makes a nuisance of himself for opponents on both ends of the court. It's not all roses, though; he has a TO rate of 21.2% (3.3 per game) and that combines with his shooting line to lead to a lot of empty possesions for the Falcons' point guard.
The player: 6'1", 178-pound guard Anthony Henderson
The numbers: 11.6/3.4/1.4 on .446/.400/.619
More numbers: 15.8% usage rate, 6.2% TO rate, 3.7% steal%
The words: Henderson is kind of the opposite of Clarke in terms of efficiency. He doesn't use nearly as many possessions, shoot as often, or turn the ball over at all, but he makes the chances he does take count. He takes an abnormally small percentage of his shots from mid-range, preferring either to get all the way to the bucket or pull from deep. When he does decide to lift, he's close to the best shooter BG has.
The player: 6'7", 202-pound forward Spencer Parker
The numbers: 14.4/4.1/1.9 on .538/.231/.622 shooting
More numbers: 56.2% true shooting percentage, 5.7 fouls drawn/40 minutes, 101.8 ORtg
The words: Parker is the James Farr of this roster, having taken a huge jump from his freshman year and its 87 minutes of playing time. He takes almost 60% of his shots at the rim and is a brutally effective scorer there. He's also an above average shooter from the mid-range; it's really only his ill-advised attempts from distance that are holding his efficency down. Not a particularly noteworthy rebounder or assist man, Parker is trying to get to the rim and score the basketball.
The player: 6'8", 232-pound forward Richaun Holmes
The numbers: 10.9/6.6/0.3 on .538/.400/.783
More numbers: 19% DReb%, 9.9% block%, 2.6% steal%
The words: Holmes is probably the Falcons's best player, a monstrously effective rebounder who can score the ball at the rim (ignore the 3P%, he's 2-5) and turn away opponents in the lane. He also has an unusually high steal% for a big man, hinting at the idea that he's active in the passing lanes. He gets less effective the farther he gets from the rim, but he leads the team in sickbacks and generally seems to plant himself in the paint and make plays.
The player: 6'10", 258-pound center Cameron Black
The numbers: 7.4/7.7/1.1 on .481/.000/.400
More numbers: 25.6 minutes per game, 10% TO rate, 28.2% DReb%
The words: Black is a big man who has the wind to stay in the game for meaningful stretches of time. He's also one of the most dominant defensive rebounders in the nation. On the offensive end, he's neither very good nor a big part of the game plan. His role is to secure the ball and get it to someone else without turning it over, and he generally handles that very well.
Here's where it gets ugly for the Falcs. Craig Sealey is a 6'6" wing who gets 5.6 points per game despite being a fairly poor shooter. J. D. Tisdale is a backup point guard who gets 3 points and 2 assists per game and puts up a horrible .310/.167/.182 shooting line. Other than that, nobody even gets 7 minutes a game off the bench for BG. If someone gets hurt or in foul trouble, the game is basically over for BG.
-Who is Xavier's second best guard? It has to be Myles Davis, right? Even though you can basically count on one hand the number of assists he has had this year, at least his shooting has come as advertised. Dee Davis took a big step back in the Bahamas to the point that one wonders if he's over the concussion or if he's going to sleepwalk through the season like JMart did last year. Brandon Randolph is laser quick, but he has been shooting really poorly from everywhere. Semaj still leads this nondescript group, but they have really not acquitted themselves well this year.
-Who are the starting five? Between Stenger's illness and the generally ineffective play of almost everyone at one point or another, you could pencil any one of about eight players into the starting lineup for Xaiver. Semaj and Stainbrook are written in ink at the 1 and 5 pretty much no matter what at this point. I guess Myles Davis is the best candidate at the two, but Coach Mack is sometimes hesitant to go away from experience. The forward positions are a mess. Some combination of fantasy and reality in my head comes together to say Christon, M Davis, Martin, Philmore, and Stainbrook will start with Farr first off the bench.
-Which JMart will we see? Martin has the ability to... you know what? I've written some combination of these words about 100 times about Justin Martin. Talented but inscrtuable. Please, Good JMart, show up today and never leave us again.
-Do the little things. Xavier is an above-average shooting and offensive rebounding team, but their offensive efficiency lingers in the middle of the pack primarily due to a failure of basic execution. They are 271st in the nation in offensive TO% and 343rd in FT%. Neither of those numbers is even remotely acceptable for a team that has meaningful postseason aspirations. Bowling Green is not a great team, but they do some interesting things defensively. Xavier needs to be able to execute against them before moving forward.
-Don't mess around. Bowling Green's best win is against Western Kentucky. Xavier is in the Big East. Teams given a reason to believe they can do damage linger around and sometimes pinch a win. Xavier should be burying this game by the half and spending the last four minutes rooting for Tim Whelan to put up a career high in scoring. One point, by the way, would be a new career high for Whelan. Time is running out on the year's games that could feature him; his scholarship teammates should do their best to get him some good minutes today.
-Prepare for the road ahead. After this game, Xavier only plays three more teams who are outside of the top 90 in the Pomeroy ratings. If the little things that have plagued Xavier this year - as well as the big things that sunk them in the Bahamas - don't get squared away, the second half of the season is going to crush the Muskies. Hopefully the week off has done the squad some good and Coach Mack has them raring to go at tip-off.